Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]

Published 1866.

This work stands at the end of the line of large-scale piano variation sets Brahms composed in the late 1850s and early 1860s.  It seems to be a direct response--or opposite--to the Handel Variations, Op. 24.  Whereas that work, difficult as it is, never utilizes virtuoso showmanship for its own sake, Brahms in his Op. 35 directly engages himself with the brilliant, fiery virtuoso pianism of Liszt and the Weimar school, an aesthetic with which he would not normally be associated.  The composer, however, almost undermines this by titling the variations “Studies” for piano, as if they were meant for technical practice rather than public display.  In actuality, the title draws attention to the fact that the variations deal with specific challenges of piano technique, in a similar manner to Chopin’s Etudes, which are very much concert pieces. Moreover, the arrangement into two books, each with an extended coda or finale, clearly indicates that they are meant for performance, as does, in fact, the assignation of an opus number.  They were composed for Carl Tausig, one of Liszt’s most notable pupils, for whom Brahms had great admiration.  The theme chosen is Paganini’s most famous violin caprice, on which Liszt and Schumann had already written variations (both of which were surpassed by Brahms in difficulty and content) and would reach its apotheosis years later in the piano/orchestra rhapsody by Rachmaninoff.  The two sets can be performed as individual units or, as is common, as two separate items on the same concert.  The old practice of selecting individual variations from either book and combining them in a “selection,” while common with Clara Schumann and other contemporary pianists, does violence to the carefully planned structure of each book.  Each book presents the theme, fourteen variations, and a large three-part coda connected to the fourteenth variation.  The variations all preserve the structure of the theme.  A first part with a four-bar phrase that is repeated either literally or in varied form, then a longer eight-bar second part, also repeated or varied.  In one instance (Book I, No. 10), Part 2 is lengthened to sixteen bars.  While some variations highlight particular technical problems, others, such as the “waltz” variation in the second book (No. 4) are adaptations of the theme to popular styles.   Rhythmic devices such as two-against-three are common (the most complex example being No. 7 in Book II), as are studies in octaves or double notes (often thirds or sixths).  The meters vary, but 2/4 (as in the theme) and 6/8 are the most common.  Two variations in Book I use the home major key, as does one in Book II.  No. 12 in Book II is the only variation that ventures away from the central key of A.  The finales build on the final variations and embed additional unmarked complete variations along their course.

In the guides below, Part I and its repetition are always treated as a single unit, whether or not the repeat is literal or varied.  Part II and its repetition are treated as two units, since it is twice as long.  Tempo markings are only given if they are indicated in the score, and the key is only given if it is not A minor (four instances).  Meters are always indicated for each variation.  Generally, the repetition of each part is quieter.

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke):
Book I
Book II

0:00 [m. 1]--THEMA.  Non troppo presto.  A MINOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The familiar theme is played in octaves, with decorations.  Part 1 consists of a short, open four-bar phrase that is repeated.  The first three bars of the phrase begin with a detached dotted (rhythm) and continue with a group of four notes.  The fourth bar is a longer descending octave.
0:12 [m. 9]--Part 2.  A contrasting, closed eight-bar phrase that uses the same rhythmic pattern, closing with an ascending octave.  For this part, the octaves are decorated with rolled chords (emulating the violin) in the left hand at the beginning of each bar, and more rolled chords in both hands for the last two bars.
0:21 [m. 17]--Repetition of Part 2.  The entire Theme is 24 bars long.
0:30 [m. 25]--VARIATION 1.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  Churning, steady oscillating motion with strong accents.  The right hand plays doubled notes, mostly in sixths until the descent at the end of the phrase.  The left hand has a single line in contrary motion with the right hand over low bass notes.  The repetition of the phrase is an octave higher and adds doubled thirds to the left hand.
0:39 [m. 33]--Part 2.  The pattern continues with doubled sixths in the right hand and doubled thirds with bass notes in the left.  The doublings become more varied in the second half, including fourths in the left hand and thirds, fourths, and fifths in the right.
0:48 [m. 41]--Part 2 repeated, with the repeat written out.
0:58 [m. 49]--VARIATION 2.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The churning sixths with heavy accents are still used, but they are transferred to the low bass in the left hand.  The right hand plays four heavily accented three-note short-short-long figures that move up an octave each time.  The repetition of the phrase is highly varied.  The volume decreases to a piano level, the left hand sixths are shifted up an octave, and the right hand plays high music-box like octaves embellished with a third below the high note.  These move steadily.
1:07 [m. 57]--Part 2.  The pattern of the first half of Part 1 is re-established.    The churning sixths move back down to the low register of the left hand, and the right hand plays the short-short-long figures in octaves, this time moving steadily down by fifths.  The second half adds more notes to the right-hand figures as the cadence is approached, but they are still in octaves and the basic rhythm is preserved.  The left hand abandons the sixths in favor of downward cascading notes at the very end.
1:17 [m. 65]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  A quieter level is again established.  As in the second half of Part 1, the left hand is transferred up an octave and the right hand plays very high octaves embellished by thirds.  These move steadily with some interruption, particularly some syncopation at the very end.
1:29 [m. 73]--VARIATION 3.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  A single line divided between the hands scurries along in the new 6/8 meter with upbeats.  The strong beats are marked with sharp accents.  Repeated notes are rapidly divided between the hands.  All remains in the upper register.  The repetition of the phrase is varied by adding a second voice playing high rising octaves on strong beats and lower falling octaves on weak beats.  The original line is the same, but it is quieter, without the sharp accents.
1:38 [m. 81]--Part 2.  The pattern is based on the first half of Part 1, with sharp accents on strong beats and a single line in the upper register.
1:47 [m. 89]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  Based on the second half of Part 1, with a second voice playing high rising octaves on strong beats and low falling octaves on weak beats.  Again, it is at a quieter level.
1:58 [m. 97]--VARIATION 4.  12/8 time.  Part 1.  The new 12/8 meter essentially doubles the length of each bar.  The left hand plays very wide arching arpeggios while the right hand plays sharply accented trills linked by short notes and harmonized underneath.  In the repetition of the phrase, the pattern is reversed, with the right hand playing the wide arpeggios and the left hand the accented trills, harmonized beneath with rolled chords.
2:16 [m. 105]--Part 2.  The pattern of the first half of Part 1 is used, the left hand playing the wide arpeggios and the right hand the accented trills.
2:34 [m. 113]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  The pattern is again reversed, the right hand now playing extremely wide arpeggios, the left hand playing accented trills harmonized underneath.
2:53 [m. 121]--VARIATION 5.  2/4--6/8 time.  Part 1.  The right hand plays groups of two doubled notes (usually thirds or sixths) beginning on upbeats.  The left hand plays in a contrasting 6/8 meter, playing three notes against each right hand two.  These left hand notes, are, however, grouped in twos (usually octave leaps) so that the clash between the hands is maximized.  Every two bars, the left hand begins in the very high register and descends quite low, crossing over the right hand.  Both hands are moved up an octave for the repeat of the phrase.  The variation is quiet and expressive, with swelling and receding every two bars.
3:07 [m. 129]--Part 2.  The pattern is slightly altered, with the right hand (still in 2/4) including groups of two and three doubled notes determined by phrase marking.  The left hand still plays large leaps, sometimes greater than an octave, in groups of two.  It is still in 6/8, meaning that the two-against-three dynamic persists between the hands.  The right hand moves steadily downward, while the left hand leaps continually down from a very high register to a low one, crossing regularly over the right hand.
3:19 [m. 129]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
3:33 [m. 137]--VARIATION 6.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  The left hand begins each bar with a low octave, then leaps up for a short phrase derived from the original theme.  The right hand, beginning off the beat, plays groups of three syncopated chords (octaves embellished by thirds), also derived from the original theme.  Both hands play quietly, and the left hand octaves should be played very lightly.  The repetition is literal, with repeat signs.
3:42 [m. 141]--Part 2.  The pattern continues in both hands until the penultimate bar, where both hands cut their patterns in half and play them twice.  The last bar restores the regular patterns.
3:51 [m. 141]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
4:01 [m. 149]--VARIATION 7.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  This variation is fiery and dramatic.  Each two-bar unit consists of one bar where the hands play widely spaced octaves in opposite directions, then another bar where the hands play closer harmonies in the middle of the keyboard, also in opposite directions.  For the first statement, the octaves move “out” chromatically and the closer harmonies move “in,” and in the second statement (the “repetition”) this is reversed with the octaves moving “in” and the closer harmonies “out.”
4:09 [m. 157]--Part 2.  The pattern continues for the first four bars as in the first phrase of Part 1, with the octaves moving “out” and the closer harmonies moving “in.”  In the second half, the patterns are cut in half, but retain the same contour (octaves followed by close harmonies) until the final emphatic cadence.  There is a bridge to the repeat based on this cadence.
4:18 [m. 157]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs, but with a second ending omitting the bridge.
4:27 [m. 165]--VARIATION 8.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  This variation retains the fire of the previous one.  The right hand plays high octaves, then leaps down to thirds in the middle range.  This happens every half-bar.  The left hand leaps from low downbeat octaves to its own middle-range thirds each bar.  The left hand thirds arch up and down, and the upward-moving ones double the right hand thirds an octave below.  The repetition is literal, but is written out.
4:36 [m. 173]--Part 2.  The pattern continues, but the left hand thirds begin to expand outward to sixths and octaves after their initial ascent in each bar (other than the first and third bars).  The last two bars break the pattern in the left hand for the cadence, but the right hand retains its character.
4:44 [m. 173]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
4:55 [m. 181]--VARIATION 9.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The left hand establishes a series of repeated low bass octaves in groups of six (in triplet rhythm).  Against this, the right hand plays a rising series of chromatic chords in straight rhythm, creating an ominous sound.  The two-against-three (or four-against six) conflict between the bass octaves and the rising chords adds more tension.  After two bars, the pattern is repeated an octave higher in both hands with the harmony changed at the end to match the theme.  The repetition of all four bars is literal, with repeat signs.  The motion is twice as slow as in previous variations. 
5:16 [m. 185]--Part 2.  The repeated octaves in groups of six are transferred to the right hand in a high register.  They move steadily down chromatically.  The left hand plays a series of chromatic chords and octaves in straight rhythm.  In the first four bars, these move steadily down the keyboard twice.  The groupings become shorter in the second half as the cadence is approached.   The entire variation is quiet and mysterious, and becomes even quieter at the end.    The right hand octaves bridge to the repeat.
5:36 [m. 185]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The right hand octaves come to a firm cadence in place of the previous bridge in a second ending.
5:58 [m. 193]--VARIATION 10.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  This highly syncopated variation, twice as fast as the last, continues the mysterious character of the previous one.  It is marked sotto voce.  The left hand plays a series of rising arpeggios in detached notes.  These rise high enough to cross over the right hand at the end of each two-bar unit.  The right hand itself plays middle-range thirds and close chords on the half-beats, creating a continuous syncopation with the left hand arpeggios.  The repeat is literal, but is written out.
6:13 [m. 201]--Part 2.  The second half is stretched out to sixteen bars--twice its normal length.  The harmonies of the Theme are prolonged accordingly.  In the first eight bars, the pattern of Part 1 alternates with a more ominous passage.  In this “ominous” passage, the left hand plays low, winding octaves to which the right hand responds in syncopation, often in exact imitation in the middle range.  In the second half, the two elements are combined.  The right hand combines the Part 1 patterns with the “ominous” imitations, while the left hand chooses the “ominous” winding octaves instead of the detached hand-crossing arpeggios.
6:41 [m. 201]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The lengthening of Part 2 does not replace a repeat here, since the lengthening is not a “variation within a variation,” but an actual stretching of the material.
7:13 [m. 217]--VARIATION 11.  Andante.  A MAJOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  This is the first of two major-key variations.  As is typical in variation forms, the major key chosen is the “home” major key rather than the “relative” key.  This variation is of the “music box” type, with both hands in a high treble register playing expressive, steady, “tinkling” harmonies.  In this variation, there are four “repetitions,” as each two-bar unit uses the same exact material (all written out).  The third and fourth of these (the actual full “repetition”) should be played even quieter, and Brahms indicates use of the soft pedal.  It is slower than Variation 10.
7:35 [m. 225]--Part 2.  The soft pedal is released.  The music box style continues for the second part, which moves steadily down for each two-bar unit.  The third of these includes a highly decorative “turning” figure in the right hand, while the last includes a trill at the cadence.  A triplet arpeggio bridges to the repeat.
7:58 [m. 225]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  Full close, without the bridge.  There is a pause.
8:22 [m. 233]--VARIATION 12.  A MAJOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  The “music box” style of the previous variation is held over into another major-key variation.  This one again exploits two-against-three motion.  The right hand plays leaping, meandering arpeggios in the high register in triplet rhythm.  The left hand (beginning with an upbeat), plays a similar line in somewhat opposite motion, but in “straight” rhythm.  It is in the high middle register.  Brahms marks that it should be played molto dolce (very sweetly).  The repetition (literal and marked with repeats) is indicated to be played even more quietly.
8:43 [m. 237]--Part 2.  The pattern continues for Part 2, with somewhat more motion in both hands in the second half (the last four bars).  The two-against-three is preserved throughout.  The left hand moves into a lower middle register at some points.  The harmonies are similar to those of Variation 11.
9:04 [m. 237]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  There is a pause.
9:28 [m. 245]--VARIATION 13.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The minor key returns for this variation, which is also twice as fast as the two preceding, returning to the tempo of the original Theme.  Brahms marks it vivace e scherzando.  It is in the Hungarian “gypsy“ style.  The right hand plays in very high, steady octaves with some embellishing grace notes in each bar.  The left hand patterns are fairly simple, with low rolled tenths (or ninths) leaping up to syncopated chords.  The octave glissando (slide) at the end of the phrase is distinctive and difficult to execute.  The repeat is literal, with repeat signs.
9:39 [m. 249]--Part 2.  Continuation of the established pattern in the “Hungarian” style.  Another octave glissando is heard at the end of the first phrase.  The second phrase has two, the latter of which is longer.  The penultimate bar, as typical throughout the variation, breaks the pattern in the left hand.  An ascending arpeggio at the end reaches quite high.
9:51 [m. 249]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  There is an alternate ending with the final ascending arpeggios sped up to a triplet rhythm and reaching yet another octave higher, near the top of the keyboard.  There is a pause.
10:05 [m. 257]--VARIATION 14.  Allegro.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  Brahms here uses shorter notes to achieve a faster effect.  He marks the variation con fuoco (with fire).  It begins with an upbeat.  Two elements continually alternate between the hands.  One is a running scale passage broken continually by skips.  The other is a short interjection with two repeated notes and a punctuating octave.  These two elements are passed between the hands so that one is always playing each.  The repetition of the phrase is varied.  The short interjection with repeated notes is omitted, and both hands pass the running, skipping scales.  Rapid broken octaves are introduced in the left hand.
10:20 [m. 265]--Part 2.  The variation is intensified.  Trills are introduced in the left hand, as are multiple leaping chains of the short interjection.  In the second half, the short interjection is preserved in the right hand, but not the left.  Cascading arpeggios end the variation.
10:33 [m. 265]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
10:47 [m. 273]--EXTENDED CODA/FINALE.  The finale begins with an extension of Variation 14.  The cascading arpeggios from the end of that variation are elaborated for eight bars, becoming ever more intense.  The major key is suggested.  There is a gradual slowing at the end of this extension, coming to a highly dramatic pause.
11:02 [m. 281]--In what sounds like another variation, the hands continue to play the cascading arpeggios, but move to playing together in unison two octaves apart.  This breaks soon, with the right hand continuing the pattern and the left hand moving to smoother, arch-like arpeggios.  The right hand makes some very brief breaks in the last two bars of this passage.  The intensity continues to build.
11:14 [m. 288]--Sharp chords are broken by tremolo, trill-like octaves split between the hands a half-step apart.  These move down two octaves.  The trill is then isolated and extended, moving back up the two octaves and rapidly diminishing in volume.
11:22 [m. 292]--Brahms here marks a new tempo, Presto, ma non troppo.  He also indicates the 2/4 meter again.  This is because what follows is another unmarked variation.  It is light, fast, and soft.  A melody derived from the theme is in the top voice, with harmonization in the bottom voice.  There are faster, trill-like notes in a middle voice.  The repetition adds an upper broken octave to the melody in the top voice.
11:29 [m. 300]--For the second part of this unmarked variation, the pattern from the first phrase is restored (without the broken octaves).  There is a sharp, isolated accent in the penultimate bar.
11:35 [m. 308]--The second part is varied in the manner of the last part of 11:22 [m. 292], with broken octaves in the top voice.  These are further enhanced by harmonies below the top notes.  The last two bars break into leaping figures in both hands.  This ending is extended by two bars.
11:44 [m. 318]--The last four bars of the previous passage (the extended ending of the “variation”) are repeated and varied with added chromatic notes.  There are two more repetitions of this passage, the last an octave lower.
11:55 [m. 330]--The last bar of the preceding passage is isolated, intensified, and repeated twice, each an octave higher.  Then there is an enormous, powerful descent  in chords broken between the hands, the right hand playing off the beats in syncopation.  When the “bottom” is reached after four bars, there is a murmuring oscillation for one more bar in a brief diminishing of volume.  A final flourish of a rising arpeggio, with solid left hand chords and octaves, brings things to a close.
12:11--END OF BOOK I [339 mm.]

0:00 [m. 1]--THEMA.  Non troppo presto.  A MINOR, 2/4 time.  Part 1.  Theme presented, as in Book I.
0:11 [m. 9]--Part 2 of the Theme, as in Book I.
0:20 [m. 17]--Part 2 repeated, as in Book I.
0:29 [m. 25]--VARIATION 1.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The right hand plays powerful octaves with sharp accents while the left hand plays rapidly ascending and descending double thirds in triplet rhythm.  When the thirds approach the middle range, they are occasionally split with the right hand, which leaves out the lower octave on those occasions.  At the end of the phrase, the octaves themselves make octave leaps and come to a pause.  The repetition essentially reverses the hands, with the thirds in the right hand, but the left hand plays descending broken instead of block octaves.  The thirds are not split between the hands on this statement, and they expand to sixths at the end.  The octave leaps at the end are preserved in the left hand.
0:46 [m. 33]--Part 2.  In this part, the thirds and octaves alternate between the hands every two bars.  The octaves are all broken, not block.  At first, the octaves are in the right hand, the thirds in the left.  At the end, the right hand thirds ascend dramatically to a pause on an A major chord.
1:00 [m. 41]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  Brahms marks it con forza.  The octaves and thirds are now combined between the hands at the same time.  Both play the octaves in different registers, and the third harmonies are now split between the hands at the distance of just over one, two, or even three octaves (three only on the beginning upbeat).  The closing on a major chord is preserved from the first statement of Part 2.
1:17 [m. 49]--VARIATION 2.  Poco animato.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  This variation is powerful, but expressive.   Like Variation 1, it begins on an upbeat.  It is based on two-against-three rhythm.  The right hand plays a winding line in octaves.  It uses straight rhythm.  The left hand plays widely spaced winding and arching arpeggios in triplet rhythm.  The repetition moves both hands an octave higher.
1:26 [m. 57]--Part 2.  The pattern continues, but the left hand triplet arpeggios are all descending in the first half.  The winding, arching lines return in the second half of the phrase (the last four bars).  There is a bridge to the repeat with a new upbeat.
1:36 [m. 57]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The bridge is omitted, and the variation comes to a full close on a pause.
1:47 [m. 65]--VARIATION 3.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  Like the previous two variations, this one begins on an upbeat.  The right hand has a light, dynamic line of ascending thirds punctuated by octaves.  The left hand plays a rather simple, detached line.  The last note of the second bar is held over throughout the rest of the phrase as the hand plays detached notes below.  The right hand thirds widen to fifths and sixths at the end of the phrase.  In the repetition, the right hand is the same, but the left hand is shifted down an octave, holding over the last note from the first phrase.  The low last note of the second bar is now held over, so the detached notes in the rest of the phrase are now an played above it, an octave higher than before.
1:58 [m. 73]--Part 2.  The pattern continues.  The left hand holds higher notes over and plays detached notes below them.  As in Part 1, the right hand thirds widen to fifths and sixths at the end.  They leap widely between the high and middle registers of the keyboard.
2:10 [m. 73]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs, and closing on a pause.
2:25 [m. 81]--VARIATION 4.  Poco Allegretto.  A MAJOR, 3/8 time.  Part 1.  Brahms uses the major key much earlier in this book than in Book I.  In a striking transformation, the theme becomes a gentle, lilting, graceful waltz.  The right hand plays in octaves, with much dotted rhythm.  The left hand leaps in each bar from a low downbeat tenth to descending off-beat chords in the middle register.  The repetition merely adds more embellishment to the right hand octaves.
2:40 [m. 89]--Part 2.  The pattern continues, with highly effective chromatic notes and half-steps, but without the embellishments of the right hand octaves.  In the last four bars, the left hand only leaps up to one middle register chord on the second beat, then plays two low octaves (not tenths) on the upbeats and downbeats.  The ending is very gentle.
2:55 [m. 89]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  This whole variation evokes the Op. 39 waltzes.
3:12 [m. 97]--VARIATION 5.  3/8 time.  Part 1.  The triple meter of the previous variation is retained, but not the major key.  Like the waltz, it is light and gentle.  A lilting dotted rhythm in octaves is set against descending triplets (in both scale and arpeggios lines).  These triplets begin in the right hand as the left hand plays a bass note.  They are then transferred to the left hand after the first beat.  The last bar has leaping triplets in both hands.  The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
3:21 [m. 101]--Part 2.  The pattern continues.  Both hands break into the leaping triplets in the last two bars.
3:29 [m. 101]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The last bar is altered.  Instead of bridging to the repeat, the leaping triplets descend rapidly to a strong cadence.  There is a pause.
3:39 [m. 109]--VARIATION 6.  Poco più vivace.  3/8 time.  Part 1.  The entire variation is a single line.  In this part, there are two large, arching arpeggios over two bars each.  They are identical, except for the bridging notes at the end of the first.  The repeat is literal, so there are four statements of this large arpeggio.  The sharp, crushing half-step embellishments on each beat, called acciacaturas, are used consistently throughout.  The embellishments are played with the left hand, the arpeggios themselves with the right.
3:46 [m. 113]--Part 2.  The first half has two more large arpeggios, two bars each.  The second half has four ascending arpeggios.  The crushing half-step acciacaturas remain in force until the end.  They are always played by the left hand as the right hand plays the main arpeggios, which include octaves in the second half.
3:53 [m. 113]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  There is a pause.
4:02 [m. 121]--VARIATION 7.  2/4--3/8 time.  Part 1.  The variation is light, but distinctly accented.  In one of the most sophisticated rhythmic adventures in the variations, Brahms establishes a four-against-three (or nine) dynamic between the right hand, which plays in straight rhythm in 2/4, and the left, which remains in 3/8.  The right hand plays high detached octaves.  The left hand line winds up and down, with chromatic notes.  To add to the complexity, the main left hand notes (on the beats of the 3/8 bars) are in the middle of their own leaping triplet arpeggios, the first note of which is an upbeat.  These shorter triplet figures thus cross bar lines before the first beats of the bars.  In the repetition, the right hand breaks its octaves into leaping descents, effectively creating a bewildering eight-against-nine rhythmic contrast.
4:10 [m. 129]--Part 2.  The hands are reversed.  The 3/8 meter moves to the right hand, the octaves in straight 2/4 to the left.  The right hand downbeats are now at the beginning, rather than in the middle of the triplet arpeggios (all of which descend), so one layer of rhythmic complexity is removed.  The 3/8 line is more leaping and less winding.
4:17 [m. 137]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  The dynamic of Part 1 is restored.  The last note of the final right hand arpeggio at the end of the previous passage becomes an upbeat.  The straight 2/4 octaves move back to the right hand, the 3/8 meter to the left.  The upbeat also re-establishes the shorter triplets crossing bar lines and the main melody line on the beats being in the middle of these shorter triplets.  It is thus not an exact hand reversal of 4:10 [m. 129].  This complex rhythmic tapestry comes together at the cadence and pause.
4:26 [m. 145]--VARIATION 8.  Allegro.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  The hands play arpeggios in contrary motion (opposing directions) throughout this variation.  It begins on an upbeat.  On the upbeats, the arpeggios are very quick, the right hand ascending, the left hand descending.  The slower arpeggios on the first two beats of each bar move in the opposite directions.  The style is meant to evoke the violin and Paganini’s violin style.  Brahms marks the detached slower arpeggios quasi pizzicato.  The repeat is literal and marked with signs.  Brahms also indicated an alternate version that is slightly easier.
4:37 [m. 149]--Part 2.  The contrary motion continues, as do the faster arpeggios on upbeats.  In the first half of Part 2, the second and fourth groups of arpeggios reverse directions, the right hand moving down and the left hand moving up on the faster upbeats and the opposite on the slower arpeggios.  All except for these groups use the pattern established in Part 1.  The penultimate bar does include one “faster” arpeggio in the middle, the only one not on the last upbeat of the bar.
4:48 [m. 149]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
5:01 [m. 157]--VARIATION 9.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  Brahms indicates that this variation should be about twice as slow as the Theme.  It is forceful throughout.  The hands play in unison through the entire variation, always two octaves apart.  This allows the hands to play block octaves themselves in the second half of most bars, creating a unison over a four-octave range.  The repetition of Part 1 is literal, and marked with signs.  The derivation from the Theme is very obvious in the contours of the unison lines.
5:13 [m. 161]--Part 2.  The forceful unison continues.  The second half of Part 2 has several treacherous leaping ascents to high octaves, and the music becomes even more powerful at the end.
5:26 [m. 161]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
5:42 [m. 169]--VARIATION 10.  Feroce, energico.  6/8 time.  Part 1.  This variation continues the unison spaced two octaves apart from the previous one.  Now, there are huge, sweeping ascents in the first half of each bar, meant to be played “fiercely.”  The main thematic material is in a held note under the upward sweeps and further powerful octaves on the upbeats after them.  The last bar in Part 1 ends with another upward sweep.  The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
5:56 [m. 173]--Part 2.  The huge sweeps and  upbeat octaves continue in unison.  There are two sweeps in the penultimate bar.  The upbeat octaves lead into the repeat as a bridge.
6:10 [m. 173]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The closing is full, as the “bridge” is omitted.
6:26 [m. 181]--VARIATION 11.  Vivace.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  This variation, marked to be played detached and in the style of a scherzo, is among the most difficult to execute.  The hands move in strict contrary motion throughout.    The difficulty lies in the layout of the arpeggios and scales.  They are played in a very steady, unbroken motion, but in these ascents and descents, every other note is an octave, alternating with a note not doubled by an octave.  This is true in both hands.  The execution at the fast, skittish speed of these alternations is extremely challenging.  The repeat of Part 1 is literal, marked with repeat signs.
6:36 [m. 185]--Part 2.  The pattern of ascents and descents, with octaves on every other note in both hands, as well as the contrary motion between the hands, continues to the end of the variation.
6:47 [m. 185]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.
7:00 [m. 193]--VARIATION 12.  Un poco Andante.  F MAJOR, 6/8 time.  Part 1.  This is the only variation in either set to venture away from the keys of A minor or major, and represents perhaps the furthest remove from the original Theme.  It is written in the style of a nocturne.  The left hand plays flowing arpeggios, arching or ascending, while the right hand plays a rapturous melody (twice as slow as the left hand arpeggios) in octaves.   There is an inner voice heard against the right hand octaves in longer notes.  It uses “hemiola” (placing an implied 3/4 bar against the prevailing 6/8) in the second and fourth bars.  The left hand arpeggios reflect this regrouping as well.  The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
7:21 [m. 197]--Part 2.  The rapturous melody in octaves continues in the right hand, as does the inner voice.  The arpeggios continue in the left.  The “hemiola” in the inner voice and the left hand arpeggios is heard in the second and fourth bars again.  The second half of Part 2 does away with the hemiola, but introduces syncopation in the main octave melody in the fifth and sixth bars.  The left hand arpeggios create a bridge to the repeat at the cadence.
7:41 [m. 197]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The cadence halts the left hand arpeggios.
8:07 [m. 205]--VARIATION 13.  Un poco più Andante.  2/4 time.  Part 1.  The key of A minor is restored.  The variation begins with an upbeat.  The top voices of the right and left hands, spaced a little over an octave apart, begin a very long, partly chromatic descent over the whole of Part 1, mostly by scales.  Each hand has a lower voice, the one in the left hand providing a bass foundation, and the one in the right hand, which moves twice as fast as the main descending voices, providing the forward momentum.  This inner right hand voice contains repeated notes in the middle of most four-note groupings, except for the upbeat to the third bar.  The motion is slow and restrained.  The repeat is literal, marked with repeat signs.
8:21 [m. 209]--Part 2.  The pattern continues.  There are two two-bar descents in the first four bars.  The second half of part 2 consists of a single large descent, with small breaks after the first two bars (the fifth and sixth of Part 2).  The more dynamic inner voice continues to use repeated notes in the middle of each beat during a descent.
8:35 [m. 217]--Part 2, Varied repeat.  The varied repeat is quite unexpected here.  The middle voice is omitted, and the descents are played by the right hand in octaves.  The left hand replaces its descending harmonies with arpeggios, mostly ascending, in the speed of the now-absent middle voice.  The entire variation is quite melancholy in character.
8:53 [m. 225]--VARIATION 14.  Presto, ma non troppo.  2/8 time.  Part 1.  The scherzo-like character reverts back to Variation 11, but the unusual 2/8 meter marking essentially speeds up the variation even more than the new “Presto” tempo indication by effectively cutting each bar in half.  The right hand has a continuous, partly chromatic descent against a steady, detached left hand.  The “repeat” continues the descent, so of necessity is exactly an octave lower in the right hand.  The left hand is unchanged.
8:57 [m. 233]--Part 2.  Two sequential right hand descents, bridged by irregular groups of five notes in the second and fourth bars.  The next three bars, after the second group of five, continue the sequence of descents with three more that are half as long.  After the last of these, the right hand arches up to bridge to the repeat.  The left hand, in contrast to Part 1, is smooth and connected in the first half of Part 2.
9:02 [m. 233]--Part 2 repeated, marked with repeat signs.  The arching bridge is replaced by a continued descent that leads directly into the coda/finale.
9:06 [m. 241]--EXTENDED CODA/FINALE.  The coda begins with two unmarked variations that are continuations of the fast 2/8 meter of Variation 14.  Part 1 of the first of these is very light and detached.  Two-note harmonies in groups of two are passed between the hands, the left hand on the first beat and the right hand on the second.  These gradually work up the keyboard.  The repetition is an octave higher, continuing to work up the keyboard.
9:09 [m. 249]--Part 2 continues in the same vein, but remains in the same range rather than moving up.  The first statement is in the high octave of the last part of Part 1.  The ending brings the hands together, with a descent in the right hand.
9:13 [m. 257]--The repetition of Part 2 reverses that of Part 1, and is an octave lower.  The ending is different from the first statement, as the final right hand descent now leads to the next section.
9:17 [m. 265]--Part 1 of the second unmarked variation introduces smooth arching leaps and descents, played in unison an octave apart.  It grows in volume and rises steadily in pitch.  As in the first unmarked variation, the repetition of the pattern is an octave higher, continuing the ascent.
9:21 [m. 273]--Part 2 continues with the arching leaps and descents, in the higher register from the end of Part 1.  It ends with a sharp upward turn.
9:25 [m. 281]--The repetition of Part 2 reaches a very loud level.  Instead of following the first unmarked variation, this repeat moves up an octave still higher.  The ending is altered to omit the upward turn and lead into the next section.  It slows down, but builds to an even greater intensity.
9:29 [m. 289]--Suddenly, the brief 2/8 bars give way to triplet rhythm and the bars are lengthened to 2/4.  This passage in triplets is transitional, reaching slightly down, then up to the very high register, where it is arrested by a chord.   After a brief pause, another rolled chord makes a transition to the next section.  In this transitional passage, the first notes of each triplet group are upbeats, and they reach across bar lines.  The last note of the 2/8 bars serves as the first triplet upbeat, which is a very smooth motion into the new meter.
9:38 [m. 298]--Brahms now breaks into 6/8 bars.  They, like the preceding 2/4 ones, are twice as long as the previous 2/8 units.  A rollicking rhythm now begins where mid-range octaves come between two higher chords or octaves to create groups of three.  The left hand leaps to these middle octaves from low bass octaves.  This sounds like “Part 1” of another variation, since first two bars are repeated an octave lower.  Eight bars are compressed into four (the same length as eight of the 2/8 bars).
9:44 [m. 302]--What begins like “Part 2” of the variation, using the same pattern of mid-range octaves framed on either end by high chords or octaves, breaks into a transition to the final passage, suddenly reaching very high again.
9:50 [m. 308]--After a very brief pause, the transition continues in a passionate, partly chromatic ascent.  The groups of three persist, with leaping octaves on the first and third parts of each group in the left hand, and the upward surging, somewhat chromatic right hand chords on the second and third parts (off-beats).  As the high point is reached, there is a dramatic pause on an accented, highly expectant “dominant” chord.
9:56 [m. 313]--The left hand remains in 6/8, but the right hand goes back to 2/4.  The right hand continues with the surging chords, but they are now in straight rhythm.  They move slightly down, then up even higher.  The left hand plays leaping octaves in 6/8, creating a three-against-two contrast.  At the end, the right hand chords leap up and down in four repeated, hammering groups of two.  The left hand octaves descend on the off-beats.  The left hand is notated in 2/4 for three final, emphatic chords.
10:32--END OF BOOK II [325 mm.]  (Includes run-off time.  The final chord decays until about 10:16.)